It was cold that night. Christmas eve, 1962, in the southside of Winston-Salem. The sun had ended it’s day an hour before and the night was dark as we headed for the old 1959 Chevy station wagon parked under the yellow glow of the corner street light. This was to be our last Christmas eve ride together, for things would change, as they always do. But, for tonight we were still a family of children and parents on our way to view a Nativity Scene down Sprague Street, toward town.
The old car groaned and growled when Daddy turned the key, but finally decided to turn over and warm itself against the freezing night air. Momma and Daddy sat in the huge front seat, the three girls behind them and I crawled over into the rear facing “far-back” seat. It was really cold back there, but it was my favorite place to ride… watching where we had been instead of where we were going.
We were all bundled up, knowing that in a few minutes we would be standing before Southside Baptist Church, gazing at a spectacle that had gone on for many years, just as it would tonight. As daddy pulled away from our little house on the corner, in front of the new Hill Junior High, I looked through the frosted back window at the colorful twinkle of our Christmas tree lights shining through the living room window, casting a multi-colored glow onto the porch and into the little front yard. The car was always parked facing five points when at our house and was far to big to make a u-turn in the middle of Sprague, so daddy navigated up Tryon where we would turn left onto Waughtown and eventually, left on Vargrave and back to Sprague. We would all “oooooo and aahhhh” and point at all the Christmas decorations as the giant Chevy lumbered slowly on. We all knew that the car would still be cold even as daddy found a place to park near the church, but we were prepared. Daddy found a good spot and we all piled out. Mamma reminded me to watch for cars to keep me from being road kill on Christmas eve and we made the short journey to worship the baby Jesus in the still night air of southside.
We were barely in sight of the big Baptist church, but could hear the strains of “Silent Night” coming from the loud speakers outside the church. Our pace picked up because we knew that the program was about to begin without us.
Families stood all around the sidewalks in front of the church. Children, to young to understand, whined about the cold and about Santa passing their homes because they were not there.
And then I saw HER. High above the manger, up there in that cold, crisp winter sky was an angel. A real live angel with her arms open wide to call in those who had come to see the miracle. I was a little guy, but that captured my attention. It was a sweet and special service. Everyone there seemed to enjoy the reminder of what Christmas is really about. And as the program ended we were a little warmer, a little nicer to each other and a little closer to the baby, whose birth we celebrate. Christmas was, and is about family, and love, and giving. Just as the sound of “Joy to the World” echoed through the streets of southside so many Christmases ago, it is my hope that our memories will continue to remind us of who we are and where we came from. Merry Christmas to all.